January 3, 2010

Death of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody

Elizabeth Palmer Peabody died on January 3, 1894, at the age of 89. Though not a major writer herself, she was connected to many of the important literary figures of the day and remains an important icon in American history.

Born in Billerica, Massachusetts on May 16, 1806, she began teaching in 1822. Then, in 1834, she began working with Bronson Alcott at his short-lived Temple School in Boston. Alcott believed young people were purer than adults and engaged them in conversation to hear what they had to say. Peabody meticulously recorded all of it and later published the book Records of a School.

Later, Peabody opened a bookstore on West Street in Boston, down the road from the Old Corner Bookstore, near Boston Common. Beginning in 1839, Peabody's bookstore hosted many of the "Conversations" organized by Margaret Fuller, who had met Peabody at the Temple School. Women who participated included Sophia Dana (wife of George Ripley, founder of Brook Farm) and Maria White (wife of James Russell Lowell).

Now a strong member of the male-dominated Transcendental circle, Peabody became the business manager of The Dial, the journal of the Concord-based group. It didn't last long, despite Peabody's warning that expenses were outweighing income.

Peabody also met a young man named Nathaniel Hawthorne. Though she denied it years later, the two seem to have had some kind of relationship. Hawthorne spurned her, however, for her younger sister, Sophia Peabody, whom he married. Elizabeth Palmer Peabody remained unwed her whole life.

Her most important contribution to history came in 1860, when she created the first Kindergarten in the United States. She believed children under six could be educated based on German practice and edited her own journal, the Kindergarten Messenger, as the practice's strongest advocate. She continued advocating kindergarten (even to Congress) until her death. She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts.


  1. What a woman. Most fascinating. Full life and the fact that she never married does not detract from it. How did she have time? And how could she have accomplished as much if she had married? So much was expected from married women at that time.


  2. A fascinating feminist! If you are interested in her history, read "The Peabody Sisters" by Margaret Fuller, a Pulitzer Prize winning author. (I just finished Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Blithdale Romance" and wondered if some of the women characters were loosely based on EPP. Of course aside from Zenobia--I could picture Margaret Fuller! (Another feminist that Marshall has written about)


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